Month: July 2017

Non-GMO oyster crackers: they are really in the soup

Non-GMO oyster crackers: they are really in the soup

We had some delicious clam chowder at one of our favorite restaurants this weekend. Even the oyster crackers were good: until I noticed the label. There was the stupid Non-GMO Project Verified logo with the even less credible butterfly alongside. Look Westminster Bakers, you make a great product, so why sully it with scare tactic marketing?

The funny thing is that Westminster must have just recently added this scary butterfly logo to their packages, because a search for their crackers brings up a lot of pictures without the anti-GMO label. You only find it on their actual company site.

So what does that mean for oyster crackers that only contain 7 ingredients: unbleached wheat flour, water, canola oil, cane sugar, salt, yeast and baking soda? Let’s stipulate upfront that “GMO” is a breeding process for making plants with particular traits. “GMO” is not an ingredient.

The plants: corn, soy, sugar beets, some squash, papaya, alfalfa, and sorghum have traits that allow farmers to grow them more economically and with fewer pesticides. Non-browning apples and potatoes have also been developed. Every major scientific organization worldwide has concluded that these genetic modifications pose no harm. These organizations include the National Academy of Sciences, the AAAS, the World Health Organization, the European Food Safety Association and hundreds of others.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients in these excellent crackers:

  • Wheat – there is no GMO wheat on the market.
  • Salt – Nope
  • Water – Nope
  • Baking soda – Nope
  • Yeast – Nope (there are some genetically modified brewers yeasts, but none used by bakers)

Sugar comes from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Much of the sugar beet crops grown in the northern US are bred to resist herbicides like glyphosate, to reduce the need for plowing and weeding. Further this also reduced the amount of herbicide actually used to less than a soda can full per acre.

 

GMO sugar  ———–  Non-GMO sugar

But sugar is a simply crystalline compound that is easily purified. Above are drawings of conventional sugar and genetically modified sugar. Can’t tell the difference? That’s because there isn’t any. Sugar doesn’t contain any proteins or any DNA to modify: it is just a simple organic compound that can be extracted from cane or beets. Whether the plant was bred to resist one or more herbicides doesn’t matter: the sugar is exactly the same. The idea that there is such a thing as “GMO sugar” is silly. Either way, it is just sugar. The label “GMO sugar” is what we call an anti-marketing label. It is used to scare you away, when there is just nothing there to be scared of. Fear-based marketing is fundamentally dishonest; this is a prime example of anti-GMO hooey!

Canola oil is another funny story. Rapeseed was grown for many years for its oil, used mostly for lubrication. This was particularly valuable in the UK during World War II. However, rapeseed oil had a bitter taste from a series of mustardy compounds called glucosinolates, which may be tasty in brassicas, but not desirable in cooking oils. In the 1970s, Downey and Steffanson of the Saskatoon Research Laboratory laboriously separated the oil part of rapeseeds from the embryo section, and analyzed the oils by gas chromatography, selecting the seeds with the lowest glucosinolate and erucic acid concentration. They planted and crossed these seeds to produce a new plant that produced Canada Oil, or canola for short.

Soon herbicide resistant versions of canola plants were developed by mutation breeding and natural selection. This was very important, because you didn’t want to include the old rapeseed plants in your oil and if they could be killed while keeping the canola plants unharmed it would make growing canola much more economical.

Later glyphosate and glufosinate resistant plants were developed by the usual biotech means, and were made available. The funny part is that canola plants are absolutely promiscuous, and the pollen can blow for miles. This means that there is a good chance that every canola plant in North America may be resistant to these herbicides and thus, by the lights of the idiotic Non GMO Project, a “GMO plant.” So basically all canola oil in North America is GM. And who cares? There is no protein, no DNA in canola oil so it doesn’t matter.

 It’s just another anti-marketing label. 

Now, there is some canola oil available in the Netherlands that is carefully produced to assure its “non-GMO-ness,” but who cares? Does Westminster buy this? Who knows? Or cares?

Westminster Bakery is almost 200 years old and is justifiably proud of their history and traditions. They claim to be using “the same basic, wholesome ingredients” as their Master Baker devised 200 years ago. Call this marketing hyperbole, though, since canola oil is only about 43 years old.

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‘Grounded’ opens at Westport Playhouse

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Elizabeth Stahlmann as The Pilot. Photo by Carole Rosegg

George Brant’s 2012 play Grounded opened last Saturday at the Westport Country Playhouse. This riveting one-woman monologue stars Elizabeth Stahlmann as The Pilot. Brant’s play premiered in Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, where it received the Smith Prize for Political Theater and was named a Top 10 London Play by both the Guardian and the London Evening Standard. While this is a strongly written play about a difficult subject, it does not really seem to have any political content that would really make it “political theater.”

It then had a rolling world premiere  by SF Playhouse (California), Borderlands Theatre (Arizona), and Unicorn Theatre (Missouri) as part of the National New Play Network’s Continued Life Program.

It has apparently had over 100 productions around the world since then, including a 3 week Off-Broadway run in 2014 with Hanna Cabell and a 6 week Off Broadway run in 2015 with Anne Hathaway. Hathaway claims to have plans to make a movie version eventually.

The play runs about 90 minutes in this version and is played without intermission or blackouts. Brant’s script has few stage directions (or punctuation) except for a few sound cues, leaving much to the imagination of the actress, the director and the set designer.

This Westport Playhouse production was directed by Liz Diamond, a Resident Director at Yale Rep and Chair of Directing at the Yale School of Drama, where Stahlmann also once studied. Perhaps not coincidentally, the complex projections were by Yana Birykova, who also has worked extensively with the Yale Rep.

The play is about a young hot-shot combat pilot (unnamed), arrogant and overconfident as pilots can be, who on leave meets a young man at a pilot’s bar who is not a pilot and is not put off by her job. She spends three days of her leave with him, and when back at her overseas military base suddenly discovers she is pregnant.  The Army does not permit pilots who are pregnant to fly fighter jets because the G-forces could be too much for the developing baby, and she is reassigned to a desk job. She has kept in contact with her boyfriend by Skype, and he is overjoyed at the news of her pregnancy, and apparently agrees to marry her. It is not clear why such a dedicated gung-ho pilot wouldn’t consider abortion in this situation, but this is never even mentioned.

We next hear that she is being transferred to Las Vegas to become a drone pilot, or as she contemptuously refers to it, the “chair corps.” She claims that no one ever comes back from the chair corps to piloting and wants to resist, but this is her assignment. So she and her (unnamed) husband and her new baby Samantha move to Las Vegas, where she begins training and soon becomes a drone pilot.

Drone piloting is a very stressful job, as reported in this Times article, and can lead to combat stress disorders, since you actually watch the carnage you create rather than quickly flying away as combat pilots can do. You also add to this the stress of switching gears to family life every night as well. To a large degree the rest of the play is about the effect of this assignment on The Pilot and her eventual Icarus-like ascent and descent.

The set, by Ricardo Hernandez, who also designed the Off-Broadway production, is stunningly ugly, made up of a single platform, barely bigger than a standard 4 x 8 platform, perhaps 5 x 10, covered with dappled aluminum, and containing a single chair which Stahlmann sits on, perches on and leans against. Behind her, ribbed aluminum strips rather like an aluminum awning cover the entire proscenium of the playhouse, perhaps 35 x 16. Eventually, colored lighting changes the mood and turns blue as she describes the joy of piloting her combat jet into the sky. But once she begins drone training, Birykova’s projections simulate the video screens she watches from her drone, with 18 identical rectangular images of several sizes covering the entire wall. Later, a single full screen image shows the target she is following.

3_WCP_Grounded_ElizabethStahlmann_byCRosegg_219Every actress will interpret Brant’s script differently, bringing her own take on who the overconfident young Pilot really is and how she feels, because Brant gives the actress so much leeway. Stahlmann’s interpretation is powerful, but not all that sympathetic, making it hard to connect with her experiences. However, one can still admire the enormous energy she gives in every performance.

Grounded continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through July 29, with performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 2 and 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are available at the theater’s website or by calling 203-227-4177 or 888-927-7529.

Nantucket restaurants: big changes in 2017

Nantucket restaurants: big changes in 2017

Every year brings changes in the Nantucket restaurant scene: chefs leave or move to new restaurants, business are sold and reopened, and the intense competition for continuing excellence continues. Realistically, the main tourist season is little more than two months long, and they have just a little time to get established, get their kitchen routine going, build a reputation and attract customers. This is going to be the big challenge this year as two “bigfoot” restaurants have changed hands.

Company of the Cauldron

cauldronChef Joseph Keller who worked with his brother Thomas at the French Laundry and at Per Se has purchased The Company of  the Cauldron from long-time owners All and Andrea Kovalencik. Keller also was the chef at the Woodbox on Nantucket some 18 years ago and developed a beloved popover recipe which is now featured at TCotC. Keller was able to keep much the same staff and promises to maintain the same style of a single prix fixe meal. Right now, their website is under construction, but you can see their weekly menu summarized on their Facebook page.

Keller has maintained the single menu per night for a fixed price that had been the policy of the previous owners  (their kitchen is probably smaller than yours), but that fixed price has gone up significantly. Lobster Monday is now $115, Tuesday Surf and Turn $98. Every Wednesday is now his ever-popular fried chicken $83, Thursday Grilled Hangar Steak $89, Friday Pan Roasted Swordfish $92, and Saturday Grilled Tri tip $98. Every dinner comes with a salad course, popovers and a dessert course. You can make a reservation by Email or telephone, but you have to give a credit card number to confirm, and they require a deposit of $25 for 5 or under, and $100 for 6 or more.

We look forward to trying them out when we arrive.

However to illustrate this year’s price inflation, last year’s menu featured 4 course meals for $75 with Lobster Mondays being $98, rather than 3 courses, (plus a popover).

The Club Car

Club carThe Club Car, right on the way to Straight Wharf has been a popular dining destination since Joe Pantorno and Chef Michael Shannon opened it in 1977. It was a white tablecloth restaurant with tuxedoed waiters and well-regarded food and service. After Shannon retired, sous-chef Tom Proch took over, continuing treasured dishes like Shannon’s Shrimp Scampi and Beef Wellington, but in recent years, especially after Proch retired, the restaurant’s service had become tired and the food repetitive, but much less impressive, while maintaining their high prices, where a number of entrees were over $40.

So it is with some excitement that we learned that Pantorno sold the Club Car to a new team: head chef Mayumi Hattori (formerly the chef at Straight Wharf) Ty Costa, director of operations, and general manager Tanya McDonough. In addition, the interior had been completely redesigned by Tharon Anderson with a lighter and brighter and less formal look (and apparently no white tablecloths).

Club car interior
New interior design- courtesy The Club Car

Hattori, who is of Japanese and Spanish descent, wanted to include some of her home cooking and has overhauled the menu, doing away with the formal dining experience, and replaced it with 6 tapas ($5-$10), 4 toasts ($8-$15), 12 small vegetable plates ($14-$19), 7 Land and Sea plates ($19-$31) and for people who want a traditional main course, there is limited availability of 3 larger plates: roast chicken $39, lamb shank ($40) and whole lubina for a jaw dropping $50. Lubina is just a word for sea bass. So any question that the Club Car is less expensive is easily dispelled.

In an interview in the Inky, Hattori indicated that she wanted to focus on small plates where vegetables are the star. She is also featuring 4 “toasts,” sweet pea, mushroom, beets and jamon Iberico. They do not plan to offer bread. Since the intention of the small plates approach is to get the table to order a number of dishes, this could run up quite a bill, although the food is most likely to be delicious, based on Hattori’s work at Straight Wharf. And of course, by not serving free bread, she hopes to sell more appetizers and toasts.

The pricey Club Car was always the home of the silver-haired yachting set often in formal nautical garb, and switching their menu to small plates with a vegetarian emphasis is intended to attract a younger crowd. This may or may not work, considering the prices, but these are experienced restaurant people and they can make changes quickly if this doesn’t pan out.

The Charlie Noble

That restaurant at 15 South Water Street that keeps opening and closing, once the beloved Atlantic Café, then the Seadog Brewpub and then Nix’s (which closed suddenly last August), is reopening as The Charlie Noble. It’s run by Fred Bisaillon and Denise Corson, who also run the B-ACK Yard BBQ. The name “Charlie Noble” is nautical slang for the smokestack over the ship’s galley. The owners intend this to be a family restaurant much like the Atlantic Café, and open year round.

Their menu includes similar dishes to the previous occupants, with appetizers including crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, crab cocktail, lobster quesadilla, the best hot wings, and crab cakes, and, of course clam chowder. The main courses feature seafood such as lobster and seafood stew ($32), fish and chips ($24), blackened salmon ($23), and golden shrimp plate ($28). They also offer prime beef short rib ($33), Mushroom Kale Bolognese ($24), and a12 oz NY Strip ($36).

They also offer a bucket of 8 pieces of Fried Chicken for $46, (maybe you can share with the next table) and a Seafood Tower for $65, for a hungry table, with crab legs, fried clams, shrimp, cod and fried clams along with corn. No word on what smaller families can pry out of them. Of course even if a couple ordered this chicken and ate only half, this would  only be a quarter of the cost of two orders of fried chicken at Company of the Cauldron. And you could take the rest home!

 

fat chad
The Fat Chad

And of course, their sandwich menu includes Lobster Roll, Big Pig ($18) American Burger ($15), Codfish sandwich ($16), Surf and Turf Burger, and the “Fat Chad,” with triple patties, bacon, cheddar and pulled pork for $22, and a Deep Fried Chicken Sandwich for ($17).

Oh, and they have 5 yummy sounding desserts. Looks like a great, relaxing place for dinner with your family and friends!

Greydon House Restaurant

greydonhouse
Greydon House – courtesy N Magazine

Greydon House (17 Broad St) had a long, slow opening, with hotel rooms available late last summer, but the restaurant, helmed by Michelin starred chef Marcus Ware didn’t open until late in the fall. While people have praised the elegance and décor of the hotel and its $750-$1100 rooms, the menu itself is about all we know about what is probably a really fine restaurant. Ware was the executive chef at Charlie Palmer’s restaurant in Chicago, and more recently at the Michelin starred Aureole restaurant in New York.

The menu features appetizers from $14 to $26 and oysters for $3.50 each. Some of these appetizers include Spring Salad, Grilled Asparagus, Potato Gnocchi, Crispy Calamari and Fusilli with Veal Bolgnese. The entrees range from $29 (chicken) to Halibut ($44), and also include Scallops ($42), Monkfish ($36), Pork Chop ($42) and Black Angus Steak ($36). In other words, at first glance, quite a conventional but somewhat expensive menu. We will be interested in seeing how Ware carries this out.

Afterhouse Raw and Wine Bar

Afterhouse-Raw-and-Wine-Bar-Nantucket
Afterhouse- courtesy Fisher Real Estate

Afterhouse is the project of Galley chef Scott Osif, with David Sylvia and Kevin Anderson, all of whom worked together at the Galley. Located at 18 Broad St, it takes over the space occupied by the Meursault Wine Bar, and in keeping with its informality, it has no web presence. The restaurant features crab salad, oysters, fish eggs, tinned fishes and a leg of Bellota ham, they serve on toast. Along with their beers and wines, this makes up an interesting seafood restaurant in a space without a stove. They are open from 2:30 pm to 12:30 am, so line cooks coming off shift. According to an interview in the Inky, the afterhouse is a room on a whale ship next to the galley, where a sailor could relax and get out of the elements. We expect a number of people will want to relax here.

Sandbar at the Jetties

Sandbar at the Jetties now has an extensive menu for lunch and dinner. The menu includes burgers and dogs, a raw bar, salads, chicken, steak and lobster. They also have an extensive drinks menu. Just the thing for beach refreshment.

Keepers

Keepers-Restaurant-Nantucket
Keepers- courtesy Fisher Real Estate

Keepers is a new mid-island family restaurant at 5 Amelia Drive, and run by Sabrina Dawson and Gaven Norton. The menu prices are very reasonable, and include appetizers like Shrimp Skewers, Seared Salmon Tacos and Crispy Arancini. Entrees include Meatloaf, Pork Tenderloin, Chicken under a Brick and Flat Iron Steak, and four salad items.

Lime Posset: a cool refreshing dessert

Lime Posset: a cool refreshing dessert

This easy recipe makes a cool lime custard in ten minutes work plus 4 hours chilling time, and is just made from limes, sugar and cream. No eggs, no flour. So why does it thicken? It’s the lime juice that coagulates the milk proteins. This recipe was suggested by one in Bon Appetit. Possets go way back to the 16th century and are mentioned in Shakespeare as well as by other writers of the time. In British Food History, Neil Cooks Grigson writes that most mentions of possets in the 18th and 19th century were to a warm drink made with curdled milk, sugar and alcohol, but there is one 1769 article that pretty much describes what 20th and 21st century cooks are making. You can make possets using any acidic fruit juice: orange and lemon possets are also common. In each case, the acid of the fruit coagulates the cream, but because of its high fat content, it makes a smooth custardy texture.

  • 2 limes, peeled into strips
  • Juice of the same 2 limes
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch of Kosher salt
  • 4 ramekins
  • 1 peach
  • ½ cup cream
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 4 mint leaves
  1. Put the cream, sugar and salt in saucepan and add the strips of lime peel. Boil gently for 5 minutes to reduce and thicken the cream.
  1. Strain the cream and return it to the saucepan. Add the lime juice and stir.
  2. Allow the cream to cool a bit and begin to thicken and pour into four ramekins.
  3. Chill for 4 or more hours.
  1. Peel the peach by submerging it in boiling water for a minute and cooling it in cold water. Pull off the peel, using a vegetable peeler if it is stubborn.
  2. Cut the peach into slices, place into a bowl and sugar them with about 1 Tb sugar.
  3. When ready to serve, add the sugar to the ½ cup of cream and whip it. Place a peach slice on each ramekin, add a dollop of cream, and decorate with a mint leaf.